Opportunistic

I arrived at the Cage Ranch just before 1 pm on the third day of Colorado’s deer rifle season.  It was 86 degrees, and a 20 mile per hour dusty wind was blowing from the southwest.  These were hardly optimal conditions for deer hunting. Recognizing that any and all deer would be bedded down, I decided the best strategy would be to slowly walk through the dense cottonwood trees that border the dry creek.  The sand on the creek is cool, and the banks provide shelter from the strong wind.  It took me 45 minutes to make my way to the eastern fence line of the Shipping Trap pasture.  I took a circuitous route in order ensure I did not alert any animal of my presence.  As I walked north over the hill that sits above the creek, I paused to glass the area.  Almost immediately I saw a whitetail doe and fawn resting in the tall grass.  They saw me but did not startle.  When I finally made my way to the edge of the creek, I used a single tree as cover and looked west.  There was a buck in the middle of the arid riverbed.  He was too far away to make out his exact size, but he was worth a closer look.  Slowly, I backed away from the creek, and then I navigated my way to the position where I thought he was resting.  My estimation on his position proved accurate, as I found myself staring at his back at 30 yards.  He eventually turned his head when he caught my wind.  It took him about 5 seconds to process the situation before jumping up and bolting northwest.  As he made his way over the far bank, he frightened another young buck who also joined in the run.  Recognizing that the plan was appropriate given the circumstances, I worked my way down the tree line, glassing every 40 or 50 yards.  As I approached a second clearing, I noticed what I thought were antlers just above the grass 100 yards in front of me. A few minutes later the adolescent buck jumped up and ran southwest.  His movement startled a group of deer a few hundred yards away.  It was easy to make out the lone buck in the group galloping towards the neighbor’s property.  While I could not make out the rack configuration, it was obvious he was a big dude.  Sticking with the strategy, I went back to the creek to continue my methodical westerly walk.  It did not take long to see another buck staring at me from a position under a dead tree.  He stood up and 8 does followed.  All of the deer looked at me, then simultaneously turned their heads left. Realizing that there was another deer, I moved back to my right, and witnessed a large buck walking away from me.  I put my crosshairs on his shoulder and contemplated my next move.  I took the safety off my rifle, but I decided against pulling the trigger.  Energized by my frequent engagements, I crossed the creek in order to hunt the northern section of the pasture.  It did not take long to notice a big bodied deer standing on his back legs feeding on the buds of a tall shrub.  Realizing he was a shooter, I extended my monopod, and powered my scope to 12.  The buck was just over 200 yards away, and I could tell that he had both mass as well as width.  I had the wind in my favor, so I had time to establish a solid rest.  A single shot knocked the buck to the ground.

I planned to spend 4 days hunting the Cage Ranch.  While I am thrilled with my buck, I was disappointed that the chase ended so quickly.  The process surrounding the hunt is as exciting as the moment of truth.

2016-mule-deer_cage-ranch

Product Comment
Styrka S7 Binoculars Great optics in all conditions. A must to evaluate if you’re in the market.
Styrka S7 Riflescope Great scope at this price point.
Primos Trigger Stick Easy to use and stable.
Badlands Stealth Pack High quality with lots of useful pockets.
Pelican™ Weapons Case Amazing protection for your rifle/shotgun.  Bulletproof.
Knives of Alaska Light Hunter Suregrip + Havalon Piranta Edge does the job.
Truck Storage My Mobile Strong unit is invaluable for keeping me organized.
SoundGear The ultimate hearing protection + digital audio enhancement.

 

 

Muzzleloader Pronghorn 2016

I take pride in making conservative, ethical shots.  Shots that result in quick, humane kills.  I have been fortunate to have taken all of my big game animals with a single bullet.  Tracking a wounded animal has not been necessary, and I am thankful for that.  I knew that when I won my CVA Optima V2 at this year’s Pheasants Forever dinner, there was a real risk of failure.  For years, I watched hunters on television kill all types of big game animals with a muzzleloader.  I now had the opportunity to hunt primitively.

Opening day of Colorado’s muzzleloader pronghorn season was September 21st.  Weeks before, my practice sessions with the rifle proved to be a challenge.  It took me forty-five minutes to get on paper, and another thirty minutes to establish a reasonable grouping.  To that point, when I arrived at the Ranch later in the afternoon on 9/21, I went straight to range in order to continue to get comfortable with iron sites.  Shooting from 100 yards, I put four within six inches of one another.  While I was not completely confident, I did not think additional practice time would produce incrementally better results.

The Blue Mill pasture is a favorite of mine.  While there is not a lot of cover, I am able to glass over a vast area from great vantage points.  My plan was simple; identify a shooter buck, determine his general direction, and go ambush him.  I felt I could execute a lethal shot within one hundred yards.  It did not take long to spot a really nice goat.  Glassing from three hundred yards, I spent about fifteen minutes looking at this rack to be certain he was worth pursuing.  Recognizing he was special, I started my stalk armed with one hundred grains of propellant along with a Powerbelt Aerolite bullet.  Almost immediately the buck spotted me, but he did not seem overly concerned.  There were a few females he was eyeing, and that kept his attention as I walked in his general direction.  When he dropped behind a knoll, I started running in order make up ground, and obtain a favorable position.  I glanced over the hill and saw his head down, casually feeding just seventy-five yards from my position.  My heart was beating rapidly but I remained composed.  There were about one hundred head of cattle just behind the pronghorn so I needed to wait until he cleared them.  As if it was scripted, he walked to my left and looked up at me.  My Optima V2 was already in the monopod, and I took aim.  The fiber optic site was centered on his left shoulder, and I squeezed the trigger.  

Unfortunately, the fifty caliber bullet sailed over his back.  Stunned that I did not connect, I watched the goat race to a position safely out of the reach of the muzzleloader.  As I made my way back to the truck, the buck cautiously made his way back to the lower section of the pasture.  I reloaded and ran towards him.  My rangefinder had him at 130 yards so I pulled the trigger.  Again, the bullet whizzed over his body.  Slightly dejected, I departed the pasture to see If I could find another animal.  I watched a few more bucks throughout the late afternoon but all were too immature to consider.

The plan on day two was to explore the eastern pastures of the Ranch.  It was seven in the morning, fifty degrees, and the sun was quickly warming the day.  I drove for miles, regularly pausing on the two tracks in order to peer into long draws.  Unfortunately, I did not see a single animal.  At about nine, I decided to head back to the Blue Mill to see if there was any activity.  As I motored west on the county road, I noticed a big buck with a single doe just one hundred and fifty yards off the road.  Startled by my presence, they completed a 180, and ran one hundred yards away from me.  Both animals stopped and looked back to assess the threat.  I backed my truck up until the pronghorn could not see me.  My loaded CVA was slung over my shoulder as I ran laterally in an attempt to impart a flanking strategy.  When I was six hundred yards from my truck, I slowly crept west toward the general direction of the animals.  Despite my efforts, they spotted me just as I spotted them.  Realizing I had to act quickly, I put the gun in the monopod and took aim.  Almost immediately I realized that the rear sites of the gun were gone.  I panicked as I knew I would not be able to kill this pronghorn or any other.  Once I got back to my truck I called Bob and told him about the situation.  As expected, he offered up multiple suggestions in order to solve my unfortunate predicament.  Luckily for me my friend Dave was heading to the Ranch, and he offered to let me use his muzzleloader.

Dave’s muzzleloader was shooting a bit high at one hundred yards.  It was almost four in the afternoon, so Tyler, Bob and I headed back to the Blue Mill.  It did not take long to locate a respectable goat feeding in and around some cows.  He did not startle when we approached him from two hundred and fifty yards away.  I was able to get to around one hundred yards before he started to trot away from us.  When he turned to look back, I took the shot.  Unfortunately, my bullet was off the mark, striking him in the leg.  The injured buck ran for a long distance before collapsing.  While I was certainly proud that I had harvested the pronghorn, I was disappointed in my inability to execute correctly.

If I am fortunate to draw another muzzleloader 2016-pronghorntag, I will put in even more time on the range.  Shooting with iron sights is difficult, and situational practice is a necessity.

 

Equipment Comment
MuzzleloaderCVA Optima V2 Easy to shoot and clean; great gun
Binoculars – Styrka S7 10 x42 Great optics for a reasonable price
Pants – Lolo Upland Briar Comfortable, tough but expensive
Electronic Ear Protection – SoundGear A must for all hunters who want to protect their ears
Truck Storage – MobileStrong Keeps hunters organized
Mapping – onXmaps Highly effective mapping software for your GPS

 

Advice

Ty and Jesse,

I have learned valuable life lessons during my time on earth.  Many times those teachings have come at a personal price.  As I close in on my 50th birthday, I want to provide you guidance.  It should be expected that you will experience disappointment, frustration and anger during your lives.  My objective is to provide you the perspective of a seasoned human who happens to be your dad.

  • Love one another and remain good friends.
  • Work hard. The most successful people are generally the hardest workers.
  • Be humble. You will have successes in life. Recognize the help that you have received.
  • Own and operate a business. Cut your own path in life.
  • Don’t put yourself in a situation that will be hard to recover from.
  • Be respectful. Specifically, of women and authority.
  • Be empathetic. Never sit in judgement of others.
  • Always do your best. If you commit to something, do what it takes to be successful.
  • Never let the fear of failure undermine what you want to accomplish.
  • Beware of who you trust. Most people have good intentions.
  • Let people earn your friendship. Once they have done so, remain loyal.
  • Take a breath before you make a decision. Analysis does not always equate to paralysis.
  • Take it slow with the ladies. This will be hard but it is necessary.
  • When you financially make it, pretend like you haven’t.
  • Adequately prepare yourself for anything you deem important.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help.
  • Choose the right mentors.
  • Be disciplined in your life pursuits. There are many distractions.  Ignore the noise.
  • Apologize when you are wrong.
  • Help people who cannot help themselves.
  • Be charitable but cautious with your money.
  • Say, “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome” when appropriate.
  • Don’t idolize anyone.
  • Learn something new every day.
  • Don’t let your emotions dictate how you perform.
  • Take the time to enjoy what the world offers. Life moves fast.
  • Move around or through your adversaries.
  • Always believe in yourself and never quit.
Jesse (9) and Ty (11)
Jesse (9) and Ty (11)

Echo

The 2016 season represents my fifth year chasing wild birds in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.  My gundog partner, Pride, is now officially retired.  A seasoned birddog, we adopted him at seven years old.  Over the last five years, Pride taught me how to bird hunt.  He put up with my misses as well as located that late-day rooster to fill my limit or salvage the trip.  The formula was easy; I pointed him into the wind and he did the rest.  It was upsetting to see him slow down towards the conclusion of the 2014/2015 season. It was my first indication that Pride’s hunting career was coming to an end.  When cancer took part of his left front paw last summer, we knew that our time in the field would be limited.  He had a few successful jaunts over four trips last winter.  On December 31st 2015, with birds flying everywhere, he could not make the walk back to the truck.  I handed my shotgun to Jeremy, and then carried my friend back to the truck.  On that day, Pride stopped chasing birds.

Preparing for that moment, Jenny and I had been talking to different breeders throughout the fall.  I ended up speaking with a nice man in Yuma, Colorado.  Francis Owens and his wife, Teressa  own a breeding/training business called Advantage Pointing Labs.  Francis and I spoke multiple times during the season, and he invited me to hunt over his dogs.  While we had a tough day finding birds, it was obvious that his pups demonstrated everything we wanted in a pet and gundog.

Echo was born on December 13, 2015.  She is one of three females in a litter of twelve Labrador retrievers.  We took her home at ten weeks, and then returned her to Francis and Teressa  one month later for basic puppy training.  Admittedly, I am not yet confident in my ability to train a gundog.  With that in mind, I asked Francis to start Echo.  The plan was to do an initial introduction to birds at three months, then bring her back for obedience as well as more complex field work at five months.  My responsibility has been to educate myself on the how to reinforce the teachings.  SportDOG offers a variety of content that helps me understand how to work with Echo.  Additionally, Francis regularly posts YouTube videos demonstrating the specific techniques he utilizes with his dogs.  I observe then do my best to employ the methods during our practice time.

Echo is now seven months old.  She has a sweet disposition and a strong prey drive (video – Echo @ 7 months).  When the season opens in November we will be ready to patrol the same fields that Pride and I once scoured.  I look forward to our upcoming hunting adventures.

Echo Training at Quail Run

Echo @ 7m

One Big Fish

For the last seven years I make it a point to spend a few days chasing native rainbow trout in the North Platte River outside of Casper, Wyoming.  The fishery is special and cherished by the anglers that have made the area their second home.  During my first three years it was not uncommon to hook a dozen fish over twenty inches long.  In fact, the river always offered me an opportunity to do battle with at least one monster trout during my trip.  Over the last three years, the number of fish hooked remains astounding.  A seventy-five trout day is achievable and, at some level, expected.  The one thing missing, however, are the giant bows.

Family commitments required Chad and me to push our trip out three weeks as well as shorten it by two days. Our first morning proved to be successful as we experienced plenty of consistent action.  We figured out the feeding pattern, and employed a #14 red juju baetis along with a trailing #20 red zebra midge to secure many of the strikes.  As the afternoon evolved we made our way to a popular stretch that produced for us in the past.  The flow was down, limiting areas to fish.  Additionally, this section of the Platte has been discovered as the number of fisherman in the water has quadrupled.  As we waded into the current, we observed at least fifteen people manning desirable spots up river.  To that point, we were forced to fish a sub-optimal but available hole.  Maintaining the same flies on my nymphing rig, I made my initial cast into a darker, deeper seam.  Almost immediately my indicator plunged and I set the hook.  My line remained firm, so I stepped into deeper water to remove the apparent snag.  Suddenly, my line made an abrupt shift and rocketed away from me.  I could feel the weight of the fish and it was noticeably different.  Realizing I had hooked a big trout on a small midge, I positioned myself for what I anticipated would be a lengthy battle.  The bow remained low in the water column, and moved with purpose when I attempted to cut the distance between us.  There is an eddy on the far bank, and my initial thought was to try to coax the fish into the slower water.  My objective was to ensure the trout never got below me as I knew the small fly would not remain embedded in the fish’s jaw.  Fortunately, he continued to move up river which allowed me to slowly take back a portion of my fly line.  I removed my net from the magnetic clip and prepared to land the trout.  He was still energized and darted upstream evading my attempt to capture him.  I walked behind the fish and continued to reel.  Once my indicator neared my rod tip, I gently raised the fly rod.  The buck swam to the top and I netted him.  The twenty-two-inch fish was the largest I had landed in recent years.  Chad snapped some pictures then I returned him to the river.

I feel fortunate to have hooked and landed a North Platte leviathan.  The big fish are still around; you just have to get a bit lucky.

Visit Mark and his team at the Platte River Fly Shop.  They sell me the flies that are actually working.

Ross 2016 22 Bow

Working Hard so I can Hunt, Fish and Golf